Tag Archives | Internet Video

Roku is Going Beyond the Box With…a Stick

Apple TV, Apple keeps saying, is just a hobby. Google TV, to date, is a disappointment. But for tiny Roku, Internet TV is a success story. The company has moved more than 2.5 million of its little streaming boxes since 2008, founder/CEO Anthony Wood tells me, and sales were up by 300% in 2011. It now offers more than 400 channels, including biggies such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO GO, as well as many more offbeat options.

And now Roku is getting ready to release a version of its service that doesn’t require a box. If you think that means it’ll be built right into TVs–well, you’re on the right track, but that’s not quite it.

Building Internet services into a TV, Wood says, has some issues. For one thing, most TV makers don’t have as many major content deals as Roku does, and their user interfaces aren’t as simple. And even if they did have great content and great software, streaming technology is moving a lot more quickly than TV technology in general is: Unless you plan to upgrade your TV every couple of years, any embedded Internet technology it sports will start looking long in the tooth long long before the rest of the set feels obsolete.

So Wood’s company is creating a Roku that’s almost built into TVs. It’s a thumb-drive sized gizmo called the Roku Streaming Stick, and it incorporates the Roku software, service, and Wi-Fi connectivity, just like the boxes do.

The stick also has a connector that uses a new standard called Mobile High-Definition Link. MHL connectors, which are compatible with standard HDMI ones, are mostly meant to let you hook up a smart phone to a TV and watch video. But Roku is using the standard to put its streaming channels onto MHL-equipped TVs. (MHL provides power to the stick, so there’s no need to plug a brick into the wall.)

Roku wants to work with TV makers to offer the Streaming Stick as their Internet TV solution–either included with sets in the first place, as a “soft bundle” available at retail, or as an option. It’s signed up one big partner already: Best Buy, which will offer the Streaming Stick for its house-brand Insignia TVs. These sets will come with remotes that can control Roku as well as the TVs’ other functions.

Once you’ve popped the stick into a slot on the back of a TV, Wood told me, it’ll offer all the advantages of embedded Internet capability. But because it’s actually a self-contained add-on, you can replace it with improved models as they become available. (Over time, Roku plans to offer several versions, at prices from $50 to $100.)

The Streaming Stick won’t go on sale until the second half of 2012; Roku hopes to have other hardware partnerships lined up by then, and will also offer it in standalone form for use with any MHL-capable TV. It sounds like a clever way to bring the best single way to watch Internet TV on a TV to even more people.



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Google Explains Its H.264 Move At Greater Length

Just about all the discussion I’ve seen of Google’s decision to dump Chrome’s native support for video in the H.264 format has been negative–and Google didn’t help things by announcing the move in a terse, bland blog post. Now the company has taken a second pass at explaining its rationale. I don’t think it’ll leave most of the unhappy campers any more gruntled, but it’s good to see Google delve into the topic at greater length.

Google’s response does underline that the browser business has a basic problem: Everyone agrees that browsers should have the built-in ability to play video, but there’s no agreement whatsoever on the standards to permit this. (Internet Explorer and Safari use H.264; Firefox, Opera, and now Chrome use Google’s WebM and the older Ogg Theora.) Most normal human beings couldn’t care less about this and simply want video to play on all the devices they use, ideally with high-quality results and without killing their battery. As far as I can tell, the industry is making no progress whatsoever towards unification, and Google’s move–whatever the reason–simply confuses matters even more.


Hate Flash? Try DivX HiQ

A recently released version of the DivX player comes with DivX HIQ, a plug-in that works with any browser. It’s a replacement for the Flash player that’s used to play videos on YouTube and at other sites–and boy, does it boost performance.

You’ll see the DivX HIQ option right below YouTube’s Start and pause button.

Among other things, DivX HIQ:

• Reduces dropouts indicated by that rotating circle you often see when Flash is downloading the streaming video. The stream is definitely smoother.

• Reduces CPU use, making it ideal for notebook and netbook users, because you’ll save battery life.

• Has a better looking maximized viewing window, plus a nifty, smaller pop-out window you can move to anywhere on your screen.

• Optionally saves YouTube videos automatically to your hard drive.

One thing not to try is DivX’s offer to permanently substitute itself for YouTube’s default player — at least until DivX HiQ is out of beta. For now, I’ve noticed that YouTube’s player sometimes starts first and runs for a few seconds before DivX HiQ kicks in.


Click on DivX HIQ for a smoother ride.


Watch the DivX HiQ product manager take you through an introduction and demo some features. [Thanks, Roger.]

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]


Cable-Cutting Might Be Hard, But It's Happening

A day after the New York Times wrote about the lasting appeal of cable TV, Hollywood Reporter notes that paid television subscriptions fell for the first time in at least two decades.

Cable, satellite and telco providers lost 216,000 subscribers last quarter, research firm SNL Kagan claims, the worst performance for these industries since the 1980s, when SNL Kagan began tracking this data. The firm expects web TV options such as Hulu to become the primary way of watching television for 3 million U.S. homes this year, out of 115 million TV households in the United States.

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YouTube and Viacom Duke It Out

Am I the only one who finds the current public squabble between YouTube and Viacom a tad unseemly? The opening briefs in Viacom’s copyright suit against YouTube were made public yesterday, and YouTube used the occasion as reason to post an item by its chief counsel accusing Viacom of secretly uploading its stuff “for years,” going out of its way to make it look pirated. Viacom has responded with a brief statement saying that YouTube’s founders thought their site needed to “steal” content to prosper; it doesn’t deny YouTube’s charges, but says they’re a red herring.

I’m not a judge, a lawyer, or an intellectual-property expert; neither are most of the folks who the YouTube and Viacom items are aimed at. That said, Mike Masnick of Techdirt has a good pro-YouTube analysis. And he links to the Hollwood Reporter’s coverage, which sides with Viacom.

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RealPlayer SP Reaches the Mac

Last June, I wrote about RealPlayer SP, a cool new version of the venerable, not-universally-beloved media player that shifted its emphasis. Instead of primarily being about playback, it served as a hub for easy conversion of Web video for playback on a bevy of devices–MP3 players like the iPod, smartphones, gaming consoles, and more. At the time, RealPlayer SP was a Windows-only product, but Real said it would bring it to Mac users by the end of 2009.

It took a little longer than the company thought, but a beta version of RealPlayer SP for OS X is available for download now–Real gave me a sneak peek last week–and is largely similar to the Windows version. A utility runs in the background and watches as you view videos at YouTube, DailyMotion, MetaCafe, and others that offer DRM-free content. As in RealPlayer 11, SP’s predecessor, you can download video files to your Mac for later playback in Real itself. But now you can also transfer them to forty-plus gadgets with a couple of clicks. RealPlayer chooses a format and settings, does the conversion, and even places the resulting video in the proper location for syncing when possible. For instance, it dumps video destined for an iPod or iPhone into iTunes, so it’s transferred the next time you sync.

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3G SlingPlayer for iPhone. Finally!

Way back in June of 2008, Sling Media began showing off a version of its SlingPlayer software–which works with the company’s SlingBox gadget to route TV across the Internet–for the iPhone. It took another eleven months until the app went on sale. And when it did, it turned out that AT&T had prohibited Sling from letting it work over the 3G network. You could watch your TV from your iPhone, but only over Wi-Fi. At the time, I wrote:

Maybe I’m a wild-eyed optimist, but I’m hoping that Sling will eventually be permitted to add 3G support, and that those of us who have paid thirty bucks for this first version will get free upgrades.

Then I sort of forgot about the whole thing, since I rarely used the Wi-Fi version of the app. (In fact I stopped using my SlingBox much, period–I still can’t figure out why the iPhone version was verboten but the Windows Mobile one was OK..) But I hadn’t hoped in vain. Today, AT&T and Sling issued a joint press release saying that the 3G version of the app now passes muster. It’ll be available (and a free upgrade to existing customers) once Apple approves it.

“Just as we’ve worked with Sling Media in this instance, we look forward to collaborating with other developers so that mobile customers can access a wider, more bandwidth-sensitive, and powerful range of applications in the future,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. “Collaboration with developers like Sling Media ensures that all apps are optimized for our 3G network to conserve wireless spectrum and reduce the risk that an app will cause such extreme levels of congestion that they disrupt the experience of other wireless customers. Our focus continues to be on delivering the nation’s most advanced mobile broadband experience and giving our customers the widest possible array of mobile applications.”

Good news, even if the process moved at a glacial pace. Presumably there are some interesting possibilities for video applications that developers didn’t even bother to consider after Sling was forced to hobble the original version of SlingPlayer. Now writing them won’t seem like a pointless exercise.

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The Future of Flash

Did irritation with Adobe Flash reach some sort of tipping point over the past few days? Probably not. But the heated debate about the near-pervasive plug-in for video, animation, and interactivity has made for fascinating reading.

When Steve Jobs sat on stage using an iPad that clearly didn’t support Flash, the discussion of Flash and iPhone OS instantly shifted from “Will Apple ever allow Flash on iPhone OS?” to “What does it mean for Flash that Apple will never allow it on iPhone OS?” to, in some cases, “What does it mean for the Web that Flash is on its way out?

Over the weekend, dogpile on the rabbit syndrome set in. Adobe employees blogged in defense of Flash, but if the software got a stirring defense from anyone else, I didn’t come across it. Even the thoughts from Flash supporters tended to be bleak.

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Vudu on LG Blu-Ray, Rotten Tomatoes on Vudu

Vudu LogoOver the past few months, Internet movie company Vudu has been in the process of morphing from a company that makes a box into a company that (also) licenses its platform to much larger consumer-electronics companies for incorporation into other devices. Yesterday, owners of LG’s BD390 Blu-Ray players got a software update that put the ability to rent and buy movies from Vudu capability on their players. To celebrate, Vudu held a press event at a screening room at Dolby Labs in San Francisco, where it streamed video in its HDX extra-high-quality HD onto a theater screen. It played without hiccups, held up well, and generally helped confirm that Vudu is a neat option for folks who want movies delivered via the Internet without any compromise in visuals or sound.

Also on display at the Dolby event was Mitsubishi’s 52-inch LT-52249 LCD TV with built-in Vudu–a drool-worthy $3099 1080p display that showed off Vudu’s razor-sharp video to impressive advantage. (The Bolt trailer has never looked so good.)

Vudu’s biggest limitation is that unlike humongous archrival iTunes, it’s only available in the living room–not on computers and portable devices. A Vudu representative at the event said that the company said that figuring out how to bring Vudu to more devices is on its to-do list.

The company also announced that Vudu has now integrated Rotten Tomatoes movie reviews into its service’s slick user interface, providing access to a much richer database of critiques as you browse for stuff to watch.